Page last updated at 13:56 GMT, Monday, 12 January 2009

In pictures: Tagging seahorses

Seahorse (Image: Maria McGlynn)

Conservationists are concerned about the long-term survival of seahorses because the creatures live among coral reefs, seagrass beds and mangroves, which are among the most threatened habitats on the planet.

A seahorse about to be tagged (Image: Maria McGlynn)

Project Hippocampus, based in Mar Menor, south-east Spain, has been running a programme for two years to identify and tag seahorses in an attempt to learn more about the creatures’ movements and behaviour.

A seahorse (Image: Maria McGlynn)

The tagging of seahorses is a delicate process because they have rigid bodies, prehensile tails and small fins. The researchers have developed a novel technique that allows them to tag the creatures without the need for risky continual adjustments.

Tagging mixture being prepared (Image: Maria McGlynn)

The team uses Visible Implant Fluorescent Elastomer (VIFE), a fluorescent polymer that is biologically compatible with seahorses. The liquid is injected under the skin in a position unique to each seahorse, allowing the team to identify individuals.

A seahorse being tagged (Image: Maria McGlynn)

The elastomer forms a solid visible mark, seen here in the middle of the seahorse’s back. The marker, which becomes fluorescent under a blue light, comes in a variety of colours. In this case, the researcher used an orange elastomer.

A tagged seahorse (Image: Maria McGlynn)

The UK’s Seahorse Trust hopes to secure funding to use VIFE tagging on the seahorse population found in costal waters in southern England, in order to learn more about the unique marine animals. (Words and pictures by Maria McGlynn)

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